Thursday, September 11, 2014

Robin Hood: Thief of Time

As we set this high-precision time capsule to “1190 ADish”, please be aware of spoilers.

Mark Gatiss is one of the most frustratingly inconsistent writers for Modern Who that I can think of. When he's on, he's on. When he's not, the episode either lands with a dull thud or crashes and burns horribly. Series 1's The Unquiet Dead remains one of my favorites, while The Idiot's Lantern is painful to even think about. Victory of the Daleks was amusing, but responsible for bringing us the Power Ranger Daleks (who have been mysteriously absent of late). Night Terrors was creepy but forgettable. Cold War is one of my all-time favorites of the new series, and The Crimson Horror is terribly underrated. And Gatiss is great at bringing a wonderfully creepy performance when he's acting, as when he was playing Professor Lazarus.

So we come to Robot of Sherwood, what I feel is the first mis-step of Twelve's tenure. It's a hallmark of Gatiss's bad stories that a hundred good ideas are thrown in front of the camera and aren't given enough time to gel. There are so many things about this episode that I liked, which makes it even more infuriating that it just didn't work for me. The return of The Chalkboard. The self-healing panel on the TARDIS exterior. Clara being an absolute fangirl of Robin Hood. Twelve performing a brief moment of Venusian Aikido, part of a strong and clear channeling of the Third Doctor throughout this entire episode. Jon Pertwee could have easily been spliced in and this story still work (at least to the extent it did).

Image courtesy BBC
 Capaldi's performance is, again, a joy to see. The early sword-fight scene, with Twelve squaring off against Robin armed merely with a spoon, allowed Capaldi the chance to express some of The Doctor's perennial madness. The same with his continued fixation with pulling out people's hairs, and his insistence that he “is totally against bantering,” only to deliver some of the finest bantering the series has yet seen. But... Gatiss really could have used someone putting the brakes on him at some points in the script. The bantering was good, great even, but went on painfully long at times. At some point, it crosses the line between quality banter and comedy posturing, and I really wish someone had pointed out where that line was to Gatiss before I ended up slouching in my chair, visibly cringing.

  The spaceship and the robot knights were yet another beautiful nod to classic 80s Who. If the episode had taken place a year or two earlier, there would have been some quasi-mystical fairy-tale explanation, and I really think I prefer clunky robots and spaceships with hard lines and (cheaply)clean interiors. I really wish we'd spent more time exploring that aspect of the story than with the comedy posturing. Or with Ben Miller's Sheriff, who cringingly devoured the scenery like he was in a charity pantomime. The Sheriff felt like an unfortunate throwback to the worst part of 80s Who villainy.

Clara's proving to be ever more competent and clever, and her chemistry with Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor is far better than it ever was with Smith's Eleventh. She's really coming into her own as a character now that she's been able to step out of the shadow of The Impossible Girl.

Previous episodes so far have dealt with Twelve's self-doubt as to whether he's a good man or not, but have done so in very subtle, quiet moments. The ending of this episode was rather ham-handed about it, with Robin nearly rattling off a show pitch. In contrast to Clara's poignant statement about what's really important, this one's about a subtle as a baseball bat. Charged with stellar energy. Beating a Dalek to death. And speaking of the ending, as Erin is well aware, my brain is very, very good at “Whosplaining” how something might work when it might not make complete sense to other people, especially Doctor Who's long and constant line of alien tech, temporal paradoxes, and sideways universes, but even I can't figure out how firing a gold arrow into the side of a spaceship is going to cause a power surge capable of boosting engines to escape velocity. I can't even figure out how you can fire a metal arrow (even a lightweight metal like gold) from a regular bow, at a ship accelerating towards escape velocity and manage to even come close to hitting it. That arrow should be in the moat. And don't say Sonic Screwdriver. THE BOW IS WOOD. Even I'm not buying that one.

Next Week: Under-the-bed Ankle-grabbers. Oh dear.

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